Learning from an Island
Near Seattle, kids experience an eco-friendly campus.
By Clair Enlow
For a “school in the woods,” IslandWood is not very
deep in the wilds. But a stay at the 255-acre learning center on
Bainbridge Island—just a ferry ride from Seattle—is
not to be confused with camping. It’s more of a lesson in
how environmental education and sustainable design work together,
and how far the limits can be pushed when resources, commitment,
and imagination are available.
Photo Courtesy the Berger
Respect for the land is designed into IslandWood. From the moment
they debark for their three-to-four-day stay, visiting school kids
can see clearly where their feet should go. Earth-colored paths—made
of pounded, recycled concrete rubble—thread around giant firs
as they lead away from the world of cars and houses and into the
site. The forest floor, with its layers of duff, sticks, and snags,
is right there at the rough edges of the walk. Visitors will find
pushcarts just past the sheltering portal to help them take their
essentials out along a network of paths to their assigned housing.
Each bunk has a small window on the woods.
The built campus is a loosely affiliated gathering of institutional-sized
structures dominated by unconventional colonnades of recycled logs
paired with industrial details and materials. Solar panels cover
one side of the butterfly-sloped roofs, which are also designed
for passive solar gain. But the buildings only cover about six percent
of the site. The rest is a restored natural landscape and a living
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